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Really tuning the guitar (for the non-beginner)

Prepared by Alan Humm

Table of Contents

Electronic tuners
Tuning by ear
   5th-4th fret method
   Harmonics method
   Octaves method
   Chord method
   Fixed note method

If you are a beginner

If you are a beginner, this group of pages is way too much information. Here's the skinny. Ask someone who knows what they are doing to make sure your guitar is reasonably properly intoned. Then skip all the stuff about tuners and just get a simple clip-on tuner. Now, jump to the section on tuning your guitar by ear and read on through the 5th-4th fret method, which you can use to make sure your tuner got it right. That's it. Come back in a couple of years. By then the rest of this might be useful.

Is your guitar tunable?

1 See the section on intonation in Buying a Guitar: Beginners. I realize this is some what circular since the second paragraph sends you back here to get in tune. Nevertheless, the first paragraph tells you how to check your instrument's primary intonation.

2 Electric guitars with adjustable bridges usually, although not always, allow you to address this issue. See sidenote #12, below.

The most important part of really getting in tune on the guitar is something you don't have much control over. It is called intonation. You will need to check it on this guitar1 before you try to tune it. If it is a little bit off in this area, you should still be able to get the guitar generally in tune, but if it is significantly off, there is nothing you can do to ever make it right.2 If it is a cheapo, give it away. If it is expensive, talk to someone in the know (like the tech guy at a music store) about whether it is possible to fix.

If it is a little off, but not significantly, your best bet may be to use an electronic tuner (next section). The standard ear-methods are just going to be frustrating. You will, over time, learn which strings need tweaking. An unwound third string is the most common bad actor on electrics. The low E (sixth string) is often a problem on acoustics. You may find that you have to tweak a little between songs, check, but not tune to, the most frequently used chords, particularly if you are changing keys (and so changing the most frequently used set of chords).

Electronic tuners

Electronic tuners come in a number of varieties. Most of them these days are digital. These will usually give you a row of lights or a needle-type meter that shows you where you are currently tuned. Somewhere or another it will also tell you what the nearest note is. Your goal is to get the needle in the middle, or get the 'in-tune' light lit, for each string on your instrument. If the needle (I am just going to call it that, even thought it may be a light on your particular tuner) is to the right (generally) of center, you need to tighten the string; if it is to the left, you need to loosen it. But make sure to check the note indicated on the tuner so you don't end up tuning to the wrong note.

 

Guitar tuner
Korg guitar tuner.

There are several variations you need to be aware of. The first has to do with how many notes are supported. Some less expensive models are strictly for guitar in standard tuning. This means they only support notes in the normal guitar range, and often only E, A, D, G, B, & E. This may be fine for you, but it will not work if you ever experiment with alternate tunings, want to get in tune with a capo on, or completely shift your tuning (say, to E?as is popular with some electric guitarists in particular-I tune down a full step because my voice has changed over time). It will also be irritating for your saxophone playing friends, if they want to borrow it.

The alternative is to shop for a 'chromatic' or an 'all-instrument' tuner. These will cost slightly more (like three dollars), but will handle the wider range and the range of notes. These days, many 'guitar tuners' may handle these things as well, so read the description or ask the salesperson if you are unsure. Be particularly on the lookout for this limitation if you are shopping second-hand (e.g. eBay or a pawn shop), since guitar-only tuners were much more common until recently. These days most manufacturers have figured out that the majority of guitarists, at least occasionally, go outside the standard-tuning box.

3 By plug-through I mean that you can put them in line between your instrument and amplifier which allows you to keep them plugged in during your performance for quick between song tunings. But you should check it on an amp before you buy. Some plug-through devices affect the output, even when they are in bypass mode. Cutting your volume or your high end are the most common side-effects of plug-through. Compare the plug-through sound with what you get going straight into an amp. This applies to other boxes you may put in between your guitar and your amp as well. It is always something you want to check.
built-in mic
Fender tuner with built-in microphone.

The next consideration is how the tuner figures out what note you are playing. There are three primary types: built-in mic, plug-in, and clip-on. The built-in microphone ones are the original, and still the most flexible, but they have limitations. They can 'hear' any instrument, but are easily distracted by background noise (they 'hear' that too). Most also have plug-in capability (or plug-through3), so if there is too much noise, and you have an output on your guitar, you can tune that way.

rack tuner
Rocktron rack tuner.
Pedal tuner
Planet Waves Pedal tuner.
built-in tuner
N-Tune built in guitar tuner.

Strictly plug-in tuners will only work using the latter method, so your sax-playing buddies will still not be happy, just for different reasons. Still, it has real advantages for live-play. The displays tend to be large and well lit, and are designed for quick on-the-fly tuning. They are available as pedal models, that look like stomp-boxes, rack mount varieties, that probably give you a little more accuracy (I'm thinking they better, for the price), and even built-in to your guitar (if you really don't want to share).

 

clip-on tuner
FZone Clip-On Tuner.
clip-on plug
Peterson Clip-On Plug.

The last variety, clip-ons, are probably the cheapest and the most convenient, although I suspect they are among the least accurate. I did mention that they are cheap and convenient, though, right? The idea is that they clip onto the head of your guitar and read the vibrations from the instrument itself. This means that they are less easily distracted than their microphone based cousins, and you do not have to have a pluggable instrument. They are also generally sharable, although with a caveat: You have to be able to find something on the instrument to clip to. The sax aficionados should be happy, since they can clip to the bell of the sax. The flautist you bring in for Jethro Tull covers may not be so pleased. Clip-on mics to drive a plug-in tuner are also available. The Peterson in the picture (above right) claims to be usable on you friend's flute as well.

needle-style (analog?) tuner
Boss Needle-style tuner.

I mentioned earlier that most tuners are digital. In an earlier time analog tuners were available. They are rarer now, but you might still see these in second-hand sources. Personally, I preferred them because they gave you a better sense of where your note really was. Digital tuners all show you where you are in a range ± x of the some standard. The value of x and the standard used depend on the quality of the tuner. If you are playing with, say, an older piano that may not be exactly at concert pitch, it is useful to be able to tune slightly lower than concert. Maybe you are one of those folks that believes that A = 432 Hz. Whatever the reason 'standard' may not be right for you, and an analog tuner gives you more freedom—if you can find one.

 

expensive tuner
Peterson high-end tuner.

The other option is to spend a lot more money on digital. I said earlier that I hoped the rack-mount tuner was more accurate, considering that it costs 10 times as much. I am sure that varies by maker. But there are tuners out there that blow my beloved little analog tuner out of the water. The one on the left is accurate to 1/1000 of a semitone (0.1 of a cent), and costs in the range of a month's rent (well, unless you live in LA or NYC). There are others that run much higher, which you might go for if you were a professional piano tuner, uh, except the best of those folks do it by ear.

Turbo Tuner
Sonic Research Turbo Tuner.

Generally I don't plug specific products. But if you are looking for a reasonably high end tuner and don't want to mortgage the house for it, Sonic Research makes a couple under the moniker of Turbo Tuner that, while they don't quite come up to the Peterson above, do manage to out perform most of the others that I am aware of (accurate to 0.2 of a cent). It will cost you more than the clip-on pictured above, but probably way less than a monthly car payment.

What I said about ± x in the paragraph about analog tuners generally applies to what digital tuners regard as 'in tune' as well. This means that there are always a range of actual frequencies that they consider 'right,' and with lower end tuners, the difference between one 'right' note and another may actually be audible. This means that the tuner may say you are in tune, but you are not. Some notes are in range, although slightly low, and others are in range, but slightly high. In fact, only one of the strings is really close to being correct. This is part of why you still don't sound in tune even after the tuner says you are perfect. Higher quality tuners (and there may not be a one-to-one correspondence between cost and quality), as I have said earlier, will probably do better, but still won't solve the problem. This is true even for the fancy month's rent one above.

The reason is every guitar is different; every set of strings is different, even from the same set of strings yesterday; every day's weather is different. And some days, your ears just haven't recovered from last night's beer and heavy-metal fest. Whatever the reason, after you have used the tuner, you need to get in tune.

Tuning by ear

First, a few thoughts on hearing the notes, no matter what tuning method you prefer. While training yourself to do this, I recommend working first with the higher strings because they are easier to hear, but just for practice. Tuning the guitar from top to bottom (high string to low) is a good deal more difficult. As your ear develops you will be able to move either direction.

In any case, you start by getting some note in tune to a standard. The standard for most instruments is A-440 (e.g. 440 Hz, which is A above middle C). This is the fifth fret on the high E string. Guitarists, though, often use E because that way they only have to tune in one direction. If you are playing by yourself, you can use the electronic tuner, if you have one, or a fixed-pitch instrument like a piano or organ, or a tuning fork, or a pitch pipe, or.... It doesn't really matter. Something.

4 The big exception is that when you are tuning across between a wound and unwound string, the overtones are different, so the same note can sound different enough that you get fooled. This is one place where an electronic tuner can help train you ear.

In this example, we are going to assume that you got your low E in tune. Start by playing the fifth fret on the E string along with the open A string. Pluck one, and then while it is still ringing pluck the other. If they sound like different notes, even a little bit, they probably are.4 If the note you are tuning is higher, I recommend that you de-tune it so it is lower. This is simply because your tuning keys work better going up, and is true even if you have fine tuners such as on a Floyd Rose bridge. Once you know you need to move the note up, try to hear the difference as a sort of tune [it won't be like a melody, but you can hear the interval in your head]. Now use the tuning keys to play that tune backwards on the target string.

By they way, in order to do this, you have to have the string you are tuning ringing while you are turning the key-you will hear the note change as you tune it.

If you are struggling to hear

5 What you are hearing in these cases is that the two waves from the string vibrations are so close that your ear cannot really distinguish them, but it does hear when the peaks and valleys of the wave happen to come together periodically. It hears those moments as volume change. You will probably never be so in tune that the beats disappear, but the closer you are to right the farther apart they get. Once they get far enough apart, you will not be able to hear them any more, and we call that 'in-tune.'

I am assuming that you can hear which is higher when the notes are far enough apart. The challenge is when they get close, and you are wondering, "Am I there yet?" If the notes sound almost right, but you are not sure, you want to listen for a little tremolo sound when you play both strings at the same time. If you hear that, the volume fluctuations are called 'beats' and they tell you that you are not there yet.5

If you do not hear the beats, but you are pretty sure it is not quite right, just de-tune and start over on that string. If you use the 'tune' method I described above it will usually get you there. If that fails, try playing both notes at the same time and, with both of them still ringing, reach around with your picking hand and use that to tune the string. Hearing both notes simultaneously is probably the best way to get you there, but it is a challenging maneuver at first.

Tuning in a group

Headphone amp
Vox headphone amp.

If you are in a crowd of other people trying to get in tune it is sometimes harder to hear your own instrument. Electronic tuners (plug-in or clip-on) come in particularly handy in those cases, but even so you often want to be able to hear what you are doing. If you are pluggable, a small headphone amp and headphones will do the trick. Sometimes mini-amps will have a headphone output, but make sure that if you are using it you can deactivate the built in speakers. Remember, other people are trying to tune as well.

 

disposable stethoscope
Graham Field Disposable Stethoscope.

If you can't plug in, another option I have used is a disposable stethoscope. You just stick the head (called the chestpiece) inside your sound-hole, and I suppose you can figure out where the ear pieces go. Suddenly, you guitar is all you can hear. This will work with an electric, too, but you will have figure how to make it stay put while you tune. They are cheap. In the link from the picture, you can get ten of them for half the price of the headphone amp above. Just getting one is less than a set of strings (although perhaps you are willing to share with some of your friends that are also trying to get in tune at the same time). If you already have the non-disposable variety, I suppose that will work too, but don't go out and buy one for this. You aren't going to dispose of it ('disposable' is so medical people won't have to use the same one on multiple people), and it has a lighter chestpiece which I am more comfortable stuffing inside my guitar.

When everybody thinks they are in tune, don't just take their word for it. Each player should check themselves (and perhaps their neighbor) against the group playing the same notes, or sometimes chords, together. Don't assume that just because everyone used an electronic tuner you are all together.

5th-4th fret method

Unless you are a beginner you have seen this one before. It is the most likely the first one you learned, and I am willing to bet it is still the one you fall back on. If you don't want to learn it again, jump to the last part of this section where I talk about its strengths and weaknesses.

6 Assuming you are using some version of standard tuning. If not, this section won't help you much anyway. By 'some version' I simply mean that if you are tuning the entire instrument a half-step low (E) or something like that, the relative relationship of the strings will still be in fourths.

7 The violin and the mandolin, for example, are tuned in fifths. The exception to this rule is, I suppose, the cello which is tuned an octave and a fifth lower than a violin (in fifths), but has a scale (string length) slightly longer than a that of a standard guitar.

8 It is named that because it is the note that string sounds when you play it open (unfretted).

Here is how it works. The guitar is tuned mostly in fourths.6 Most stringed instruments are either in fourths or fifths. The deciding factor is usually the length of the neck relative to the size of the average adult hand7 (this is just information-you don't need to know this). Because it makes it easier to chord, and for historical reasons with which I will not bore you, the second and third strings are tuned in a major third. This may make playing a little easier, but has for ages made tuning the instrument a pain in the behind for beginners. Still, it is not too hard.

Start by tuning the low (sounding) E string by whatever means necessary. If you got a tuner, as I suggested in the first paragraph, use it to tune the low E. You could also tune it to the piano, a computer tuner, or in the absence of any of those, guess. If you are playing by yourself, and it was OK last time, it probably still is.

5th-4th fret tuning diagram
5th-4th fret tuning diagram.

In the picture, the vertical lines are the strings, and the horizontal lines are the frets. The red/black line at the top is the nut (by the tuning keys). The letters at the top, you probably already know, are the string names, and the letters down the side are notes associated with frets on the low E string.

To tune your guitar, you press the string down behind the fifth fret on the low (sounding) E string (there is probably a dot there, unless you have a classical guitar). That gives you an 'A' note, which happens to be the name of the next string.8 So now you have two 'A' notes. They should sound the same. If not, tune the A (fifth) string until it matches the fretted E string.

I strongly recommend that you leave the string you are tuning (in this case, the A string) ringing-pluck it again if you need to-while you are tuning the string. You will hear it when it gets close. Randomly turning the keys and hoping you will happen to land in the right place will make this process take a long and frustrating time.

Now you use the same approach to tune the D string to the A string, and the G string to the D string. At this point you run into that little hiccup in tuning I mentioned earlier, so instead of going to the fifth fret, you tune the B string to the fourth fret of the G string. Then you go back to the fifth fret (of the B string) to tune the high E.

At this point you are done. The high E string should sound two octaves above the low E string (i.e. sound like they are versions of the same note, one high and the other low).

Strengths and weaknesses

Technically, there is nothing wrong with this approach. If your guitar is perfectly intoned, your strings are broken in but not dying, and your hearing is such that every note you tune is spot-on, this method will work perfectly. It does not suffer from the perfect fifths problem that weakens the next approach, since your frets perfectly set to deliver the equal tempered scale. Why, then, have so many of us abandoned it in favor of other methods? Simple. Since our hearing is completely perfect, it must be that our guitars are faulty. That is why they never seem to be in tune after using this method. It just makes sense.

Umm, well, yes, it is unlikely that many of have perfect guitars and constantly perfect strings. But, while there are people who train their ears so well that they can make a living off of them, most of us are not professional piano tuners. What actually happens is this. You get the first note mostly right. Then you get the next one mostly right, but that is 'mostly right' relative to the last 'mostly right' string. Then you do it again and, well, you get the idea. If you were 99% right for each of five tunings (keeping in mind that your errors are cumulative), you can be as much as 5% off by the time you get done. I am guessing you can hear 5% off. Maybe you are a little sharp one time and a little flat the next. If so, you are probably pretty close by the time you are done, but most of us either tend to hear things sharp or flat consistently, which means our errors accumulate.

Part of the problem may be that we generally have to remember the sub-interval difference in our heads as we take our hands off the fret in order to tune the target string, repeating that sub-interval in reverse. This way, unless you stretch your picking hand around to the tuning keys, you never hear the two notes at the same time while you are actually turning the key. Also, we hear things better in the upper notes than we do in the lower ones. I'll bet you are pretty accurate tuning the high E string from the B, but not so much tuning the A from the low E. The next approach tries to address both these problems.

The harmonics method

You have to be at a certain level as a guitarist before you even can use this method. Maybe that has contributed to its popularity-it impresses the neophytes to no end, which is particularly nice if they happen to be attractive members of the other sex. But it actually does have a couple of advantages (besides being impressive), to which I alluded in the last paragraph. But let's look at the method before analyzing it. If you already know about harmonics, and are able to use them, you may skip the next two paragraphs (jump down next to the fingerboard chart); if you already know this tuning method, feel free to jump to its strengths and weaknesses.

9 This illustration is extracted from one by Y. Landman that I use on my Waveforms and harmony page. Look there for more information on the harmonic series.

Harmonics are created by subdividing the length of the string, creating a node (place with no vibration) with out actually depressing the string. You do this by lightly touching the string at a point where it creates an even division (e.g. ½, , ¼, , etc.). The half is easy. That is right over the twelfth fret (where you probably have two dots, or, if you play classical, where the neck meets the body). If you have never done this before, it is a good place to start. Touch the string lightly right over the fret (but do no push it down). Pluck the string; it rings an octave higher than the fundamental, and it is actually vibrating on both sides of your finger. Here is what the first three harmonics look like:9

first three harmonics illustrated
The first three harmonics illustrated.

The one at the seventh fret is a perfect fifth above its fundamental, and the one at the fifth fret is two octaves above the fundamental. If harmonics are a new thing to you, just work on it for a while. They are worth knowing even if you don't end up using them for tuning.

Harmonics tuning diagram
Harmonics tuning diagram.

What makes this useful is that a fifth, in music theory terms, is the inversion of a fourth, Knowing that, the way this approach works is like this. As with the previous method, you use whatever means at your disposal to get the E sting in tune. Then you compare the harmonic the fifth fret of the E string with the seventh fret harmonic on the A string, and tune the A string until they match. Now you repeat the process to tune the D and G strings. At that point you hit the tuning hiccup, so the harmonic method won't work, except that the 7th fret harmonic back on the low E happens to be the note you need for the B string open. So, you tune the B string that way. You get the high E by going back to the fifth-fret harmonic = seventh-fret harmonic method. The illustration at right, um, illustrates this approach. At this point, if all went well, you should be in tune.

Strengths and weaknesses

There are some clear advantages to this approach. First, the notes you are listening to are all in the range where it is easier to hear when they are correctly in tune. Second, one of the problems with the other method was that open strings have a lot of overtones (parts of the harmonic series that are present, even though you are not aware you are hearing them). Harmonics do too, to some extent, but much less so-that is why they have a clear bell-like quality. This means you more clearly hear the notes you are actually tuning. Third, and this may be my favorite, you can leave both notes sounding while you tune since you don't have to have your fret-hand on the fingerboard once the harmonic has started to sound (it is essentially an open string, just with multiple nodes). It is much easier to tune two notes when you can hear them both at the same time, particularly once they are getting close.

10 The difference between an equal tempered fifth (what your guitar is designed for) and a perfect fifth (harmonic) is two cents (the E.T. one is slightly flat). A 'cent' is one hundredth of a semitone. You may not be able to hear it, but when you multiply it times five, you probably can. Even if you can't, you should assume your audience can. Nevertheless, Gerald Klickstein argues in favor of this method, but modifies it by flattening the higher string a specific number of cents, which will vary according to the string being tuned. The variation is because of a tuning technique called 'stretching' that compensates for the fact that the 'beats' in the fifths multiplies to become audibly uncomfortable over several octaves. Presumably he does this by counting the beats after he slightly detunes the fifths. No doubt, this takes a while to learn to do well.

11 Alright you sticklers, I know ancient Greek did not have any punctuation at all-can you say, 'humor'? 'Comma,' in this case means 'interval' referring to the difference between a stack of (7) octaves and a stack of (12) perfect fifths (about a quarter of a semi-tone).

12 The fifth fret produces the two octave harmonic, so it is not subject to the Pythagorean comma problem.

Of course, this doesn't solve the problems that come from your instrument-the ones you were blaming the tuning problems on in the last tuning method. Although I was making fun of our tendency to blame shift, they often do exist. Still, there is a more fundamental issue, known as the Comma of Pythagoras. The bottom line is that the kind of fifth that will make your guitar in tune is not exactly the same as a perfect fifth in the overtone series-close, but not quite there. Don't get me wrong, it may be close enough for you to sound generally in tune, and the advantages of this method may get you in better shape than the previously 5th-4th fret method described previously, but you will still get off, even if you tune perfectly.10

Octaves

Octave tuning diagram
Harmonics tuning diagram.

The octaves method is not hindered by Pythagoras' punctuation issues.11 It is based on the fact that the seventh fret of the second string in these pairs of fourth-tuned strings is an octave above the first string open. Since an octave is pretty easy to hear, you can use that as another way to tune string pairs. If the octave is hard to tune to, you can tune from the 12th fret harmonic on the lower of the two strings.

There is no easy solution for the G to B strings, so you have to go back to one of the other methods for that one.

Strengths and weaknesses

I often use this method in combination with the fifth fret method to correct my low E to A, particularly if it gets off in mid-concert. However, it is not a general purpose favorite of mine. That does not mean it cannot be yours. It often is my method of choice for the bass, though, although I don't use the harmonics. I have personally found bass harmonics to be packed with overtones. Maybe it depends on what sort of strings you use.

It obviously suffers from the same imperfect guitar and imperfect hearer problems as the other methods, and just like the other methods, those problems can accumulate additively.

Chord tuning

We have all done it. Something sounds off, so you strum your favorite chord and tune the string that sounds wrong. OK, and maybe another (couple). The chord sounds good so you must be in tune, right? So you start in on the song, and the next chord is off. In fact every other chord is off, so you try tuning to another chord. Same problem. No pretending you don't know what I'm talking about here.

Why doesn't it work? Well, if you remember the problems with the harmonics tuning approach, you are probably on the right track. You are naturally going to want to tune your fifths to the sweet sounding perfect version, and we have already seen that that will get you in trouble. But there is more trouble than that in River City (how many of my readers are old enough to recognize that reference?). The fifth may get you two cents sharp, but the third you get tuning by ear will take you 14 cents flat. That one chord is going to be real pretty. Everything else will stink. One option is to start a cover band that specializes in one-chord songs. Failing that you are just going to have to settle for the equal tempered tuning system (see note 10). Sorry to say, that means you are going to have to give up this tuning method. The only exception is that sometimes it can help you find the one string that is off, which you then tune using a technique that actually works.

Fixed note tuning

I don't remember who first developed this method. I do remember hearing about it from my instructor about 40 years ago, and he seemed to think it was the latest, hottest thing, but what did he know? Since then a lot of people seem to have 'discovered' it. The idea is, first and foremost, to eliminate cumulative error by tuning all strings to the same common source string. The version I heard started from the low E string, like all the tuning methods we have looked at so far. I have seen an alternate version that starts from the high E string (so, for example, Paul Guy's approach). Being a music major in a classical music department, though, it occurred to me that all the other instruments started by tuning to A 440, and I wondered why the guitar should be different. After all, we have a perfectly good A string with 440 on the 5th fret harmonic.12 OK, I'm not the only person who ever thought of that, either. Dave McClure does this on his Equal Temperament Guitar Tuning page.

But one thing they all seem to do is assume your guitar is perfectly intoned (McClure, for example, has you tuning the G string from the 10th fret on the A string). It isn't. So my approach tries to avoid fretted notes above the fifth fret. This is because if your guitar is not perfect, its accuracy will increasingly decline as you move up the fret-board. The trick is to use a combination of unisons and octaves. But enough prelude; let's get to it.

One-source tuning diagram
One-source tuning diagram.

The chart on this one looks a lot more complicated. But once you see the logic, it is pretty intuitive.

1. Begin by getting your A string in tune by tuning the fifth fret harmonic to a tuning fork or other standard A-440 source. The next five steps can really be in any order. This is the one I use.
2. Go back one to tune your low E string to the A using the standard fifth fret method.
3. Use the same fifth fret technique to tune the D string to the A.
4. Tune the A on the G string (second fret) to an octave higher than the A string. If you want a unison, you can use the 12th fret harmonic on the A string instead.
5. Tune the B string to the B on the A (second fret). You can also get the unison, but this time using the artificial harmonic on the A string 14th fret with the second fret pressed.
6. The fifth fret on the high E is also A-440, so tune it to the fifth fret harmonic on A that you started with.

You think you are done, ha ha. Now you need to verify, which you do by checking all the octaves.

1. Second fret on the D should be an octave above open low E, and an octave below open high E.
2. Second fret on G should be an octave above open A.
3. Third fret on B should be an octave above open D.
4. Third fret on high E should be an octave above open G.
5. C'est bon. Now high E open should be an octave above the second fret on the D.
6. Open B should be an octave above the second fret on A.
7. Open G should be an octave above the third fret on the low E.

13 Fixing an intonation issue may be as simple as replacing the strings, but if they are reasonably new (but also used long enough to be broken in), you should take your instrument to a qualified repair person and see if the problem can be fixed. If it is an electric, you could try adjusting the bridge yourself, both height and intonation.

If all those worked, you are in tune. If one of them was off, do not tune them to each other. Rather, re-tune them both to the A string. Keep at it until they are right. If it is not possible, your guitar and/or strings have intonation issues. You can do an on-the fly fudge by slightly shifting both strings towards or away from each other but keeping their relative distances from A the same, but you will want to do something about your intonation problem.13 Do this until all the octave tests pass. Now you are in tune.

Strengths and weaknesses

Strength: It works if you do it right. Weakness: It is more complicated.

Conclusions

If you stuck with me all the way to this point, I conclude that you have perseverance. God luck on your tuning adventure.

 

© 2013 Alan Humm